"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A student's reflection after reading The Boy on the Porch

I recently, somewhat reluctantly (sorry to admit this), handed my ARC of The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech to a student. I asked her to come see me when she had finished reading the book, which she did.  After our animated discussion, I asked if she would like to reflect upon her reading experience.  She happily took on the challenge.  

One of my goals in teaching last year (and again this year) is to explore ways, both with and without technology, to give students a voice.  I am exploring and experimenting with ways that students can express their opinions, their ideas, their knowledge, and their understanding. Here are Carrie's words. I am so glad she shared her voice.

The Boy on the Porch Reflection

       I was so thrilled and honored to receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy of The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech. I have enjoyed Sharon Creech’s writing in the past, had the opportunity to meet Sharon Creech at school last year and heard raves about the book from Mrs. Reed (my awesome library teacher!); needless to say, reading this book was of excitement to me. I began reading the book Saturday night and once I got into it, it was difficult for me to put the book down until the moment that I finished on Monday morning. I ran into Mrs. Reed later on Tuesday and we had an excellent book discussion about it.
       The book starts out introducing a young couple that you could relate to from any age, Marta and John. The two of them live alone on a farm in a small town. One morning, as they go about their regular morning routines, they see a young boy sleeping in a chair on their porch. Curiously, they sit with him until he awakes hours later. After him spending a few days with them, they figure something out; the boy, Jacob cannot speak, though communicates through tapping on any and every surface. The boy also gives Marta and John a note stating (with spelling and grammar errors) that the child’s name is Jacob and that he is a good boy, and “they” will be back for him when they can. The young couple assumes that this means a few hours to a day.
       My favorite part of the book is how Marta and John really have no parenting experience and work much on trial and error. They do always try to do what is best for Jacob, though don’t always succeed. I really enjoy how you can see what Marta and John are thinking and really just how hard they are trying with Jacob. John, appears tough, not quite understanding why Jacob finds joy in music, art and riding cows, but not in “dirty work” though he really does have that father-like soft spot that comes out various times throughout the book. Marta, on the other hand, is a gentle, kind “mother,” always looking out for Jacob’s sensitive feelings. Marta and John soon grow attached to Jacob and are faced with many difficult choices because of this.

No matter what type of book you ordinarily enjoy, this is a great pick for everyone!

Need I say anything more?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Slice of Life: Appreciating the Small Moments

Every Tuesday, Ruth and Stacey, host Slice of Life at their blog, Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post on Tuesdays or you can just head on over there to check out other people's stories. 
For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, go here.

Part of blogging and participating in weekly challenges is reading and commenting on other people's blogs.  I like this part of the challenge.  Last week, I read Katherine's Slice on finding joy in small moments, which was based upon Franki's Slice about the importance of small moments.  

Franki used her daily Starbucks ritual as an example of a small moment each day. Like Franki, I am a tea drinker.  I am always asking students if they have seen my coffee mug.  I have a cool striped ceramic one and a burgundy one, so those students who have been with me long enough often ask, "Which mug?" Franki's recognition of the small moments in her life and with her students made me cognizant about the small moments with my students.  I loved the Maya Angelou quotation that Franki ended with:

"You must remember, the very first thing a child sees, the first thing they notice when they see you, is you seeing them. They look carefully to see what your face looks like as you lay eyes upon their face. When you see a child, no matter what, remember to fix your face." 

Katherine used her Slice to talk about the moments of joy in her daily life.  Like Katherine, I try to recognize and celebrate small moments every day.  And, like Katherine, it is the secret to my happiness. Spending the days in my school library with students makes me happy. I see many special moments while hanging at the intersection of reader and story. 

I live a mindful life and I celebrate those small moments in my life outside of school as well.  My small moments are expanding from those between me and the people around me, to those between me and the world around me. This year, I challenged myself to take a photograph each day. The practice has made me more observant. I see the way the light falls across the grass or the way a rain drop rolls down a window. This Earth is an amazing place. I could easily walk past these small moments, but I stop, and look, and try to capture them. I wonder which I will remember longer - the photographs or the act of taking the photographs?

I love these words that Katherine used to end her post:

"Don’t wait for the big things to come along to make you happy. Don’t wait for life to be perfect to find happiness. Find joy in the every day, in the small moments. Life is short. Enjoy it."

Let's recreate the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with Franki's Slice! Let's pay these important and joyful moments forward.

Find your small moments, be they: important or joyful; between you and the people around you; or, between you and your environment. The moments are there waiting for you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Monday and I'm Reading Banned Books

Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers,started the It's Monday What Are You Reading meme for children's literature.  You can follow the #IMWAYR  hashtag on Twitter or go to Jen's Webpage, Teach Mentor Texts to see which blogs have linked up.
I'm reading...Banned Books.
It's Banned Books Week.  Celebrate and support the right to read by joining the FREADOM Movement.
Check out the activities, ideas, and supporting organizations on the Banned Books Week Website.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by ALA, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Association of College Stores, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, PEN American Center, and Project Censored.  The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress has endorsed Banned Books Week.
Read On.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

...and neither was building a learning community in our library.

This was our second full week of school and our second conversation around creating a community of learners.

My message to students looked like this:

Welcome Library Learners,
Today we continue our conversation about community.  My question is still, "How can you help make our library a learning community?"  We will review, read, and reflect. Happy Reading and Learning, Mrs. Reed

If you read last week's post, you have a gist of what went on during our first conversation.  Without boring you with the details, I will tell you that we reviewed last week's book (Tea Party Rules!) and last week's discussion.  I then showed the students the poster splashes they contributed to and brought their attention to the new signs.  Under the question, "How can you help make our library a learning community?"  I had written four things:

*Raise your hand

*Listen to others
*Contribute your ideas
*Take risks

As I was typing up the sign, I realized that the behaviors were somewhat hierarchical. Raising one's hand, leads to others listening, which means students are contributing their ideas and that this all involves taking a certain amount of risk. Cool beans.

We interrupt this post for a tangential note, something I know is not an effective teaching strategy, but which sometimes engages the students (or hopefully, readers). On Monday, I was driving home from work when Fresh Air came on my local NPR affiliate.  Terry Gross was speaking with Debora Spar about her new book, Wonder Women.  During this interview, Spar and Gross discuss an article about a Harvard University case study.  One aspect they discussed was that the study had found that women in the Harvard Business School lagged in class participation compared to male counterparts.  They discovered that it had to do with breaking down women's ideas that they had to have the right answer and should not say things that would please the professor.  I used this example (with some broad brush strokes and a bit of background about the rigorous nature of be accepted to HBS) as a vignette for the students.  We talked about contributing ideas and taking risks. I hope it encourages them to be active members of this community. I also hope they were able to hear how cool it was that something I was thinking about - taking risks and contributing to a conversation - was also being talked about during the same week!

After discussion about this part of our conversation, I introduced Each Kindness written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. This book is incredible, but don't take my word for it.  This book was recognized with a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, 2013 Jane Addams Peace Award, 2013 Charlotte Zolotow Award, Best Book of 2012 – School Library Journal. Here's a synopsis from Jacqueline Woodson's Website, "A new girl comes to school and tries to make friends. When Chloe, the narrator, is unkind, the girl keeps trying. And then the girl is gone and Chloe is left only with the memory of her unkindness."  

I read Each Kindness. 

After I finished the last page, I closed the cover and let it stand upright on my lap. My library was silent. After a minute, I asked for reflection, comments, concerns, reactions. The floodgates opened. My students wanted to talk about this book.  

There are a few specific reasons why I think this book is so powerful, but before I share mine, here is what some of my students had to say:

"I didn't like the ending."

"I wanted Maya's reflection to appear in the pond water and tell the girl it was okay."

"I wanted Maya to come back."

"It was sad."

" I wanted the girl to be able to right a letter to Maya."

"I think it was very powerful and interesting but it could have ended a little more happy.  It was very sad, but I liked that Chloe reflected on her actions."

"I loved the illustrations, they made it look real."

"When Maya comes to the school, Chloe judges her on how she looks, that's not right. it only mentions Chloe's name once, so at the end I felt like I was Chloe. I always try to be nice, but now I am going to try harder because each stone ripples into the water and I want to have a place with that stone."

Right. It's that powerful.

After dropping a stone into a bowl of water, the teacher tells the students, "This is what kindness does," Ms. Albert said. "Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world."

Why I love this book:

This book encourages readers to choose kindness the first time. 
This story is powerful because there is no happy ending. There is hope, but not a happy ending.  We do children a disservice when they think they can always make things right and that everyone leaves happy. The students all understood and felt Chloe's remorse. Most of the students felt Chloe had changed and would be a different person the next time someone new came to her classroom. We all make mistakes and are unkind, either purposefully or inadvertently and hopefully we grow and become better human beings from these experiences.

This book demonstrates the power of naming things.
The name that stays with the reader and stayed with my students was the name of the victim, Maya, not the unkind child, Chloe. Jacqueline Woodson only mentions Chloe's name twice and it is on the same page in adjacent sentences.  I would like to think she did this purposefully because it makes Chloe's character and that role more universal.  Instead of vilifying a character in a story, it allows the reader to place him or herself in her shoes.

This book empowers children.
It is not clear whether the teacher chose to bring in the kindness lesson because of what was happening in the classroom, but Chloe takes on the journey of reflection on her own.

This book allows for a shift in perspective.
This is an authentic story that gives the reader the perspective of the person who was unkind.  The honesty with which Chloe is recounting her story and insight into her reflecting on the moments of kindness slipping past her is not often see in a picture book.

The illustrations make the story timeless yet real.
The illustrations by E.B. Lewis match the power of the text. They create mood and tone. They help bring authenticity. 
There is so much more to say about this book, but you should experience it for yourself.

How did I end this lesson?

I asked the children to Choose Kindness. I spoke about the things they had just mentioned.  I spoke about being an inclusive and supportive learning community. I explained that I wanted to change my original question to this:

"How can you help make our library a SAFE learning community for ALL LEARNERS?"

The answer?

Be the person 
whose kindness ripples out into the world.

We won't build community in two weeks, but we've started the journey, we are traveling the Via Appia.

**I carry Naomi Shihab Nye's poem, Kindness, with me always.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On the road...with my cat

I took my cat to the vet this afternoon.  The vet is only a two minute drive away all on side streets. It is just too far to walk my cat in his carrier, so we drive.  On the way home, I let him out of his carrier. He loves to look out the window, but today it was almost as if he knew the way home and recognized the surroundings. I pulled over a few times to capture these shots.
"Slowly, Slowly."

 "Wait, I think I see the house!"

"Yup! I think that's it."

"I recognize those bushes."

"And there's one of the chipmunks!"

"Great. The house is still there."

"Hmmm. Are the neighbors home?"

Slice of Life: On the importance of time spent together

Every Tuesday, Ruth and Stacey, host Slice of Life at their blog, Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post on Tuesdays or you can just head on over there to check out other people's stories. For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

Here's my slice.

Our cat loves tennis balls.  He holds it against his belly with his front paws and proceeds to give it a solid thumping with his back paws.  He's even managed to carry a tennis ball in his mouth by catching it on his sharp teeth!  My very dog-like cat will also chase them around the house and attack them, which is why there was an errant tennis ball on the kitchen floor, which my son then started to juggle and eventually send past me to ring off the dishwasher. I collected the ball from the vicinity now near my feet and tried to dribble it past him.  No words were said.  The game was on. A game that had not been played in two years.  

I have played sports with both my children, but my son and I have had a soccer match going from the time he could kick a ball. Our basement was the scene of many a soccer show down.  Goals were established, rules were set, soccer balls were handled, laughter always ensued. It was competitive though.  We kept score. We tried all our tricks and feints. We wanted to win.  We also laughed at the missed shots. We heckled each other. We shanked the ball.  We even added sound effects -- usually me emanating  the breathy "ahhhh" of a large crowd as I raised my hands in a victory swoop after scoring a goal!  

When we redid the basement about six years ago, the game moved up to the kitchen (which is shaped in a U with hardwood floors). The refrigerator served as one goal and the dishwasher (which I was usually found defending) the other.  Two years had passed since we'd last played soccer in the kitchen, yet it felt as if time had never stopped.  About 10 minutes into our game, my son disappeared and returned with the small soccer ball we had gotten in Spain.  It was purchased just for this venue.

The game was on again.

Did I mention that my son was home from college?  We hadn't played soccer inside the house since his sophomore year of high school.  Why?  I am not really sure.  I am not sure how we let life get so serious and so busy during his last two high school years, but I am glad we found our way back to this place.  We both clearly needed this.  

After I dropped my son back off at his dorm, I drove home thinking about a reflective piece I had written back in 2004.  

The “gradual increase” theory as it relates to ball play

Recently, in the midst of our weekday morning routine, I realized there was an additional element adding to the chaos and cacophony.  It was a subtle, but persistent, somewhat rhythmic noise like “thumpa thumpa thumpa” accompanied by the often erratic arc of a flying orb.  It is the sound of balls bouncing on and off surfaces in my house.  A ball or often two balls now attend many events and routines in my family’s life.  It happened so slowly I did not fully comprehend or accept their permanent companionship until this week. Oh, we’ve always had balls for play, but they have remained outside the house.  We have soccer balls, basketballs, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, street hockey balls, footballs, kick balls, super balls, baseballs, waffle balls, soft balls, hacky-sacks, pinkie balls, you name it and we most likely have it. Both our children love sports and being out-of-doors.  The new turn of events is that the balls have all come indoors.  When the children were infants we had a quilted ball and a soft ball for rolling back and forth, but as they grew older the ball play moved outside.  About a year ago, we got a small futsal ball (a heavier but softer soccer ball) for playing 1v1 in the basement playroom. Shortly after that, a few tennis balls came in for off-the-wall.  This was followed by the purchase of an indoor hockey set.  All of this was manageable because the ball play stayed in the basement. This morning’s sounds emanated from the game of off-the-wall being played against a door in the kitchen and a kick ball being bounced in the family room.  After the children had headed off to school and the house was quiet, I walked around the house picking up balls.  As I picked up one type of ball after another, I realized the invasion was complete.  To name a few, there was a super ball in my bedroom, a futsal ball in the hallway, a tennis ball in the kitchen, and the kickball in the family room.  I hadn’t acknowledged how significant their presence was.  I experienced a brief moment of longing for the time when small cars were the main stay and could be found everywhere in our house, but then I realized that the ball thing is another phase in the growth of my children and this too shall pass, besides I like playing soccer and catch and off-the-wall. And it won’t be forever, until then though, I think I’ll try and limit their run of the house and keep a couple of aspirin handy.

My take now?  I hope the balls and cars never leave my house. I wouldn't trade a clean house for these moments spent with my children.

Friday, September 13, 2013

We are a community of learners

This, the first full week of school, was a week spent building community.  From kindergarten through grade 5, we discussed what it means to be a community of learners and shared ways that our space can be a safe and supportive environment for all learners. 

I created a poster with the question, "How can you help make our library a learning community?"  I also made a poster with some of the big ideas about being a community: listen to others; support your peers; contribute your ideas; take risks; and, do your best work.  After our discussion, we finished with students adding their voice to posters, about our learning community, that will hang in the library. I hope I started a conversation that the students will finish and own. We are on the road to becoming a community of learners.

How to start this great discussion?  With a great book of course!
I happen to have a galley of Tea Party Rules, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by K.G. Campbell.  My review of this book gives you some indication of how much I love it, 1980's bridesmaid dresses and all. Without any spoilers -- there's a bear, there's a girl, there's a tea party, AND there are rules.  

I read the same book all week long, from kindergarten to grade 5. (Now, I prefaced with the 4th and 5th graders that the book was geared to younger readers, but that they would enjoy it as well, and enjoy it they did.)  

Each grade level and classroom experience and reaction was unique, but there were some common moments, make that guffaws and groans, during this tea party.  I loved seeing the 4th and 5th graders let go of any preconceived notions or societal strictures about being too old for this kind of book and to witness their eyes light up just as much as the younger students and see them elbow and nudge those close to them to share a humorous moment. It was all so much fun, right up to the final page.  

After reflecting on the story, I explained that I didn't want to think about having rules in our library, but that I wanted to think about how we could be a community for all learners, a space where both the girl and the bear could be learners. The ensuing discussion was awesome. 
I want to talk about some of the other aspects to this book that make it great for teaching.

We spent time using our visual literacy skills to read expressions and body language and to make predictions.

We spent time practicing reading strategies like making predictions and activating prior knowledge.

We spent time practicing recalling information in the text. "Rule number one was?" When we got to rule number four, it was a group recall event...I read the text, "Cub couldn't believe it."
And then, added my own text, "Tea Party rule number one, he was..." and the students answered, "clean."

The group gasp that accompanied the next page was awesome!

The last thing I will tell you about this book is that is allowed me to share my own story of dressing my real live cat in my teddy bear's dresses. I loved reliving those memories.

What a week it was! is it really only the 8th day of school?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Let the school year begin!

Our school year began a week ago. I had been in the previous few weeks setting up the library and I was ready for the new school year to begin, but all that preparation did not prepare me for what happened the minutes the students entered the library.

They acted as if they were home.
 It was as if we had never left.
 This is clearly their space.
These are their books.
Book to share.
or read quietly.
Books to answer questions.
Books with which to take journeys.
 It's going to be a great year.

Some things felt normal too.
The 4th and 5th graders shared their favorite summer reads.

Where did I start my kindergarten students' reading journey? 
They'll be opening and closing many books in the next six years. I am excited to be with them along the way.